Posted November 25, 2010 at 02:08 am
So, I hope you guys are having a good holiday season. I hope the same for my international readers, but I'm sorry I don't know much about holidays outside the US of America!

I think the Thanksgiving story is pretty common knowledge to most English-speaking westerners due to the wide spread of American media, and for as long as I can remember, there's always been debates over who did what, what food was served, whether it really was on good terms or even if it really happened. I think when it comes to Christmas, it's obvious the traditions are almost not related to the reason for celebration at all, and that's okay.

Putting aside religion, tradition or anything else that holds you to celebrating these days, just remember the theme of the November/December holidays, and that's togetherness. We get together with people we love (I hope you love 'em!) and have food. One major reason the current creatures on the planet exist is that when they eat, the pleasure portion of their brain is excited, and they are suddenly just a little happier. They get addicted to this notion, actively seek out food, and are healthy enough to pass on this addiction gene. Fast forward to today when you celebrate, it's often over a nice meal. Not many people celebrate with food alone. (If you do, you're me, and don't be me!) We're usually celebrating by shoveling food into our gullets with someone we love. It is perhaps the eating of the food with this person that makes us love them just a little more.

If I had a point to all this, it is long since dissolved and now I'm bored with the whole thing.

So, what are you guys eating this Thanksgiving? Does anyone really like that jellied, can-shaped cranberry sauce? I ate it for over 20 years out of tradition then realized "Wait... I hate this." Also, I'm so bored with turkey. It's good, but I think a chicken or even a pheasant is a bit more flavorful. As for uniquely southern foods, I'm not sure what's unique to us, but I have a few favorites. For starters, my mom makes great home-made stuffing (but who wastes stuffing by shoving it in a bird's butt?). It's nothing like that stuff you get in a box (which I like, but not nearly as much as dear Mom's.) and is like a really high-quality deviled crab without the crab. Oh, my. My mouth waters thinking about it.

She also makes an astounding banana pudding, essentially from scratch. Sugar, milk, eggs, flour, bananas, "Nilla" wafers I think are the major ingredients. No boxed vanilla pudding. This stuff is so good, you won't realize you ate so much of it until your stomach hurts from distention.

My favorite dish, however, has been a favorite for most of my life. You probably call it macaroni casserole, but it's much simpler and thicker than most northern or western casseroles. We call it macaroni pie. It's essentially flour, cheese, (egg? I don't think so. Maybe.) and of course macaroni. The sauce is cooked in a saucepan then mixed with the boiled macaroni, then baked. Of course, this is when most people would eat it. I'll have a small bite, sure, but I'm saving my biggest portion for when it's cold. The cheese and flour have solidified, and now you cut the casserole with a knife. If it's made right, it is soft, but doesn't fall apart, even when eating it by hand without a plate. It's so rich in the cheesy flavor, and is substantially satisfying. It's truly my favorite dish.

So have a great holiday season, guys. Don't worry about your waste-line this month. Just have all those good foods, and resume healthy eating habits to drop any stubborn pounds the next year around. Life's short, so enjoy it.
Posted November 20, 2010 at 04:36 pm
I'm going to try to make this post without coming off as an evil, miserly son of a rat. Keep in mind I am a little crazy and probably a paranoid schizophrenic.

You stand at the counter. "That will be $1.06 please. Would you like to give $1 to Orphans Dying Of Being Orphans?" "No, I am evil, and I want all orphans to die because they are orphans." "Thank you, sir. Come again."

This has been a growing trend that I'd like to see stopped, where stores and fast food restaurants ask you for a dollar every time you buy something for some charity of which you've never heard. I'm not a selfish man. I want to give. I give whenever I can, and I feel terrible when I can't. Next year I hope to auction off a custom strip for the Child's Play charity that gives video games and toys to sick kids who need all of the joy they can get. If I were a rich man, I'd like to start a mobile veterinary station that treats animals and spays/neuters them at low to no cost to the owners. I've fantasized about having a loving foster home for needy children to get them out of orphanages and out of the homes of abusive/neglectful foster parents who take them in only for the government allowance.

But back to the trend. If I'm performing my errands for the day, I will likely encounter two or three places just in that short time. At the Dollar Tree where I can occasionally find decent prices on household amenities, they will say "Would you like to buy a child a toy for $1?" I'm not sure how to say "no" in a strong enough tone. For one, I'm not going to bestow upon some child the horror of your crappy discontinued stuffed Ricky Martin doll that you're just trying to get rid of. Another thing, if I'm going to give, it's going to be directly to the charity, and not let it pass through the hands of a corporate entity who might get only a small portion of it to the actual charity in need.

This part is maybe just me being the usual crazy that I am, but when I am asked this question, I feel a harsh social stigma washing over me. It is twofold. Let's say there's an attractive woman behind the counter, or one standing behind me in line, or both. Let's analyze the answers I give as my crazy-person mind is wont to do. If I say "No" I can't help but think "Oh, can't give a kid a dollar, eh? What a piece of work you are. Your taco comes with extra spit today." Then, if I say yes, "Oh, big spender. Look at this loser trying to impress me with a crappy dollar." Obviously that last one is extremely paranoid and far-fetched, and I will admit it plays the least to my fears.

Another reason I don't trust this at all is that the company is probably maxing out its charitable donations for tax write-offs and publicity by having to spend no money out of their pockets. Just instructing their employees to ask for a dollar from every customer, and voila. Even if only 1 out of 10 people agreed to it, they'd be swimming in such donations. Then at the end of the fiscal year, they're shouting from the rooftops "Look at our charitable donations this year! We're philanthropy incarnate!" This is another reason I like to give directly. Not so I get credit, but so that someone else doesn't steal that credit for their own personal gain.

But as it stands, not just me, but everyone's in an economy right now where every dollar counts. There are no rich people shopping at the Dollar Tree, or Big Lots and probably not Taco Bell, but these are the places you'll most likely hear professional begging for them to add a $1 donation to your $2 check. If you run a lot of small errands and gave a dollar to each of them, you could be looking at your water bill for the month, or your insurance bill if you're a safe driver. It could amount to a few days worth of groceries if you are frugal.

I understand the reasoning of a reasonable person, however. If you leave most people to their own devices, they may never give. You must guilt them, and they're correct in that assumption. We've all seen the commercials, and we've probably donated to them. You see the kid from Simbadoo (not a place) with flies on his face and emaciated while a chubby white person begs you to help. Just watching TV makes you the monster. Only 30 cent a day. You can spare it, ya sleazeball. Actually though, I'm being harsh. I have no problem with this advertising at all. It guilts people in the proper way, by appealing to their own conscience, but what's more, in privacy. That's what the difference is between private guilt, and the public guilt you get from an announcement that "No, I do not wish to help people."
Posted November 1, 2010 at 06:10 pm
So, I've intended on doing a review of Fallout: New Vegas for a while. Obviously, there are a lot of reviews out there already, but I'd like to give my own perspective, if you'll allow me.

Pre-Summary: Buy it.

When it started, I had crashing problems, but I found out it was my computer's fault, and now I'm down to maybe one crash every few hours. If you ask me, you could probably use a break after a few hours, anyway. Also, there are fixes out there for lots of the problems, such as unreasonably slow frame rates, mouse acceleration, and official ones for various other glitches and problems. So I think the game is doing pretty well now, technically.

As for gameplay, I have opinions!

First, one of the newest additions is 'Hardcore' mode. In this mode, ammunition has weight, stimpaks heal over time, and you must eat/drink/sleep to survive. I've been playing this mode, and I really like it, but if you're doing it for the end reward, you may want to reconsider. Highlight to see the reward spoiler: An achievement.

Other than that, I find hardcore mode to add a whole new element to my experience; one of realism in a world that could certainly use more immersion.

As for the weapons, it seems like there are tons of new weapons. And many interesting ones. I've been thoroughly enjoying hand-to-hand combat, which is something I didn't do much of in Fallout 3. Not much to say about the weapons though. It's your basic fare of new stuff for a new game.

My favorite part of this new system is the skill checks in conversations. Before, in Fallout 3, it was based on a percentage, so no matter how high your skill, there was a chance you could fail and forever ruin the rest of your game for that quest. In this one, you see right away that you have 62 of the required 75 points in Speech to pass this check. Sometimes you can purposely fail the check for funny dialogue, but sometimes failing a check is as permanent as it was in Fallout 3. Barter is also a highly useful check this time around. You can often swaggle your way into higher pay with it.

A new feature is the reloading stations. You can break down ammo and rebuild it as other ammo, depending on the materials you have on hand. It's a lot like the forge in Fallout 3's expansion "The Pitt" but much more involved. Another thing about ammo is there are different types. Armor piercing, for example, will break through an enemies armor, but does less damage to flesh. Hollow point, however, will damage flesh massively, but will shatter upon hitting armor. There are many different kinds, and if you love to maximize your efficiency, these are for you. If not, the standard issue ammo is always a good choice.

Level-up perks this time around come only every even-numbered level (unlike in Fallout 3 where they were every level) BUT you now get perks based on completion of challenges, based on what you do most. If you kill lots of bugs, you get the Bug Stomper perks, and there are multiple levels of it. You also get perks depending on who your companions are. So by the end of the game, you'll have more perks than you would have in Fallout 3.

The level 30 cap, I just don't understand it. I didn't like it in 3 and I don't like it in New Vegas. But there are mods for it.

The factions are new, and really super interesting. You can wear disguises and ally yourself with whoever you like. This time, if you're evil, it's not just "Ooga booga, I have all your pork 'n' beans." Factions like or dislike you based on your quest decisions, and you can get special treatment with any of them. If you play your cards right, you can make pretty much all of them like you. It's a very complex web of intrigue that adds a whole other dimension to the game. It pretty much obsolesced the karma system, which is still there, but I don't pay any attention to it. There aren't any perks for it either, that I've seen.

Also, remember in Fallout 3 when accidentally grabbing a bottle cap would make an old lady shoot your brains out? Now, you just become less popular and they take your stolen items back. It makes much more sense to me.

There's so much clean water this time, too. It's such a nice change.

It is much more crowded here in the Mojave Desert than it was in the Capital Wasteland. Some people don't like feeling like they're all alone. I kind of like it, because it makes every contact with another person meaningful and enjoyable. This is purely preference, but it is a big difference.

The radio isn't nearly as good as it was in Fallout 3, and it doesn't seem like there are enough radio stations. This is a big let down for me, but I rarely use it anyway, because your radio gives away your position when you're sneaking. The song lists are shorter, and randomized poorly.

Fallout: New Vegas also uses ambient music from Fallouts 1 and 2, which was very interesting if you've ever played them.

All in all, if you loved Fallout 3, you've already bought this game or decided you were going to, so I'm not talking to you. If you just liked Fallout 3, I think you should still buy New Vegas, because it has improved in nearly every area except the radios.

Buy it, would you kindly? (Crap, wrong game.)
Posted October 21, 2010 at 01:49 pm
So, I've always been a frugal guy. I explained this in my Wacom post. I've also always had cats. They're amazing animals with incredible, individual personalities and if they seem to just sleep all the time and avoid you, you're probably giving off an "I don't like you" vibe to start with. But that's enough about cats.

What I want to talk about is kitty litter. If you're a cat owner, you know it, and you hate it -- that is, if you buy the cheap stuff. For the longest time I'd buy the cheapest litter. Something like a 20 pound bag for $3. This might last a month, but with four cats, it was more like 2 to 3 weeks. It always stunk, so we'd occasionally get the good-smelling stuff to sprinkle over the top of it to help absorb the odor. Since it didn't clump like the 'expensive' stuff, you could only pick up the dookies with the scooper, and the pee just left the litter a darker grey, so after a few days, you had to just dump out the entire box. And this was a horrible hassle. Every time I cleaned the box, it filled a plastic grocery bag, and was extremely heavy. Sometimes it would tear from the weight, and it was just terrible terrible. And did I mention the stink? Good god, the litter box is in my bathroom and it was a punch in the face every time. No air freshener could cover it, and I don't like to use air freshener around small animals anyway.

So one day, there was a sale on kitty litter. US$9 for a 28LB box of "Fresh Step Multiple Cats Scoopable" kitty litter with carbon. Usually $12, but as I'll explain, still worth that price. I said what the heck, and removed the old clay litter for the last time. I added this stuff to the box and the bathroom smelled better instantly. It was like night and day. I never realized before how hesitant I had been to even enter my bathroom until I got rid of that old litter. A couple days later, it was time to clean the box. I was still apprehensive, as I figured there's no way anything can clump as good as it does in the commercials. So I went through my routine, I squatted down (not comfortable for a fat guy) and began scooping. I pushed my scoop deep around the first clump. The fine, still-clean litter around it feel down through the holes of the scoop without so much as a shake. It was like the waters falling away from an island that had risen from the ocean after millennia of submergence.  (Dangit Worpress, don't tell me "millennia" is spelled wrong. I know it's right.) But even though it was a big perfect chunk, it was also surprisingly light. After I had finished cleaning the box, the bag I placed it in was barely full at all. I had gotten only the dirty litter, and the box still looks glistening clean, as if I'd just poured it. I added a bit more litter to the litter box (with no choking dust, mind you,) and I was done after only a minute of light scooping. With the old crappy litter, it was several minutes of feverish searching for semi-clumped stuff, pulling up clean and dirty litter alike, before getting frustrated and emptying the litter box altogether.

That was on September 13th that I started using this new litter. It's now Oct 21st, and I still have at least half of a box of kitty litter left. I figure that if this box lasts 2-3 months and the old stuff only lasted a few weeks or a month at best, on cash spent alone, you're already coming close to breaking even. And in sanity, my god is it worth every penny. Go to Taco Bell once fewer every couple of months and buy this litter instead. Your bathroom will smell like roses and meadows instead of pee and crap.

You will thank me, and your cats will, too.

- Rumpy and Needles when they were a few weeks old.
Posted September 27, 2010 at 09:39 am
..than I would have just buying quality products. Allow me to explain.

I'm always looking for a bargain. I'm not a miser, but I do look for a good value. Sometimes the things I buy are an excellent value, such as picture frames at the Dollar Tree, or my eyeglasses for $8 plus shipping. (They're built a little cheaply, and you might have to bend the frame to your liking, but the lenses are the best I've ever owned. They're more smudge resistant and scratch resistant than any $250 pair I've ever bought.) And a $10 cell phone is all I need.

But one place I've always failed to save money is on pen tablets. A pen tablet, if you're not aware, is a digitizing device like a plotter that uses a pen that lets you draw digitally. You draw on this pad, and it shows up on your screen. Wacom is the most famous brand of these, and also very expensive! So as a lad, before I got my first $200 Wacom Intuos2, I was trying to find cheaper alternatives.

My first little device was a pen-shaped mouse with a tiny ball in the bulbous tip. You remember ball mice, right? How horrible they are? This was even more horrible. It didn't even work, let alone digitize my art. My next entry was this tablet called the Pablo. It connected via serial connection, and I just plain couldn't get it to work. I was in the business of making serial devices work at the time, so it had to be the device itself. I then came into an actual CNC plotter, but I don't think I paid for it, and I never got it to work anyway.

Finally I broke down and paid $189 for the Wacom Intuos2 4"x5" tablet. Then I used it... my lines were all jagged and ugly. I used it for a while, then not again for a long time. Then one day, I picked it up again and suddenly my lines looked right. The problem was that I drew really slow, so slow steady lines come up as wobbly and blobby on a tablet. Over time, I had become proficient at making long smooth line strokes, and when I picked up my Intuos2 again, it suddenly felt right.

I used that for many years, then traded up for a much cheaper Wacom Bamboo 4"x6". (Unfortunately, the store was out of the $60 "Bamboo" tablets, so I had to pay an extra $30 for the "Bamboo Fun" which just includes a mouse no one has ever used.) It feels so much larger, but it's really not. It's only about 4 square inches larger. But I love it.

Fast forward to recently when I've been antsy to get a bigger tablet, but the thought of paying $469 for the Intuos4 Large is daunting, to say the least. I perused a top 10 list of the best digitizing tablets, and nestled neatly in the Wacoms was something called a Monoprice (that's the brand name. The product is just 'Pen Tablet'). I read all the reviews, and the only bad reviews I saw were ignorant about the product, or had such menial issues, that I wouldn't be bothered by them. The greatest thing about this tablet was it was half the price of my current tablet, and far larger than it, as well. It had a drawing area over 10"x6", which is gigantic for digitizing.

So I sat drooling at this device, reading all of the shining reviews, trying to talk myself out of the fourth failure of purchase in pen tablets. Then something happened... It dropped from $40 to $31 literally after I refreshed the page. I don't know if it was some database hiccup, or if it was a little sale, but I had to snap it up.

I sat around that day, not doing work, excited about my new tablet coming via UPS. I bounced around, checked the tracking status several times and stared at the clock. Almost at the stroke of 5PM, the truck came wheeling in to hand me my package. I darted inside and ripped it open. Oh it is so lovely looking. Doesn't feel cheap at all. It's so big, but it perfectly fit on my desk.

After some fiddling with drivers (I don't fault the tablet for that. It conflicted with my Bamboo) I got it to work. I instantly began finding faults. I guess I'm more experienced with these devices than the people who would actually buy one.

First, the software. Nowhere in there can you change the sensitivity of your tip. You can make it so that you have to press harder to click, but you can't change the line variation hardness, if that makes any sense. I had to do it completely within the software i was using, and its limits didn't go as high/low as I needed it to.

The resolution of the tablet (the amount of sensitive pixels) seemed greatly exaggerated. It felt like my cursor would jump suddenly from one pixel to the next when drawing anything small. I thought maybe it was just an artifact of it being so large, but this seemed to manifest itself in making small rectangles when I was trying to draw small circles. I tried to struggle through it, but there are other problems.

When making medium-sized strokes, it would often create sharp angles at the turns. I would counter this by turning up smoothing (something I could do in Easy Paint Tool SAI but in Photoshop, I already had it set to max) but in SAI, this countermeasure caused it to lag and create little hairy tails on every line I made. It was annoying, and added extra work.

On the Bamboo and any other Wacom, you can configure the pen buttons to keystrokes and other functions. With this thing, you could only change the kind of click they'd do (Left click, right click, right double click, etc.) I used a program to bind them to keystrokes, but in SAI, they fired in rapid succession, causing me to undo 5+ times for one click. I messed with all of the permutations of configuration and this persisted. The button on the pen is also extremely recessed and difficult to reach.

The USB cord is too short. And every device should have a separate cable like Wacom has started to do. If the stupid fat cat chews through your cable, you're not uncontrollably weeping as you try and splice the wires back together -- you just go to the store and buy another cable instead of another tablet.

The surface is supposed to have the feel of real paper, but it feels more like dragging your pen across sandpaper. It's just much too rough. Besides, even on my lovely Bamboo, I wore the paper surface off after a few months.

My final complaint was the final nail in the tablet coffin. The line variation is uncontrollable and off the charts. With the Bamboo, I can vary my lines with a slight press and have a huge variance depending on the section of line. With the Monoprice, there were essentially three states of variance. "Where is it?" "That's an alright line" and "My god, that's horribly huge." No matter how I adjusted my arm and fiddled with the pressure settings, every line looked like one of a cartoon leaf that starts at the stem and tapers at the tip. I was drawing every line twice, and it was taking me far too long to work.

Maybe this tablet is for beginners, but shame on everyone who gave this a good review and actually makes money with their digital art. You are probably a terrible artist.

But my glasses are still awesome.
Posted September 22, 2010 at 10:58 am
So, y'all been playing this Minecraft thing?  Yeah. I hate this game. I hate it because I can't stop playing it. (Use this page to get started so you don't walk away confused like I did the first time). Argh, I've been looking for this game for so long. Ever since I played Dungeon Keeper over and over, milking it for every bit of gameplay it had, I desperately wanted some sort of sandbox open-world game that really gave me the freedom to play how I wanted to play.

Sure it's simple. You can make tools and weapons, build homes, mine precious ores, kill monsters, create elaborate structures both above ground and below. But even though it has so few elements (and it's still in Alpha), it's an immensely immersive game. Anyway, everyone is already talking about it, but I needn't toot it anymore. All I know is that the guy who made it is going to be very rich. (By my calculations, he just made over $100,000 in one day.) But that's what happens when you make a game everyone wants instead of the 82nd iteration of Big Budget Game With Super DRM.

I feel bad, because what I like most about this game is that there is no storyline. I'm so tired of companies compromising on the gameplay/replay value of a game because it focuses so heavily on story. I'm not calling anyone out like Square Enix (Which will never be as good as Squaresoft or Enix were alone.) I am just tired of someone trying to blatantly jerk my emotions around to make a point.  I really like to keep my movies/books/TV and games separate. It's why games based on movies never work. (Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game? What the heck?)
Posted September 17, 2010 at 09:40 pm
Hey guys, here's an alternate version of "The Dangers of Fandumb" of September 17 2010. I'll make it available as a print, as well.

Alternate Dangers of Fandumb
Posted September 9, 2010 at 09:51 pm
Really looking forward to New Vegas coming out next month. I've been bored as heck. I recently found a patched version of Namco X Capcom which was never translated and released in the west, so I'm trying to get it to work on an emulator, but with limited success. It looks awesome though. As you may have discerned from past comics, my favorite game ever is Final Fantasy Tactics, and this game seems to have that same tactics system, but with Capcom/Namco chars, so it looks pretty cool.

Argh, why is New Vegas so far away? It's going to basically be using the old engine, but in a way the original makers had intended Fallout 3 to be (or some facsimile). I can tell you now I don't give two craps of the storyline, though. The first thing I will do is maybe check into the first major town, see if there's regular lodging I can procure, and find a side quest to start like Moira's survival guide in Fallout 3. It's a great way to get a feel for the world, and the sensation of joy one gets from discovery is a narcotic-like effect. There is nothing more I love to do in Fallout 3 than crawl the 'dungeons' for the little rewards at the end that have no quests or missions associated with them.

I always think I'm going to play the bad guy in karma-based games, but I can rarely bring myself to do it. I always answer the way I really would and end up with like "Super Heavenly Benevolent God" karma status. One game I managed to be naughty in was Bioshock 2 (my second playthrough). The first few levels were absolutely grueling, trying to drain the little sisters instead of saving them. After a while, I grew numb to it because it was just a game, after all. It's harder to be actually 'evil' in Fallout, because you could repeatedly save towns and people, but if you steal a million worthless bent tin cans, you're the devil incarnate.

I'd hate to have that conversation with St Peter at the pearly gates.
Posted September 5, 2010 at 02:51 pm
But no, I didn't get to go. Actually, is it strange that I've never been to a convention in my life? I have never really had the funds to go to the ones in, say, San Diego, Seattle, Texas, etc, but I never realized that one of the largest comic conventions in America is a mere 40 miles away from me in Charlotte, NC.

I speak, of course, of the Heroes convention. I really hope to get to set up a booth there within the next year or two (probably two, because pre-registration runs out like 8 months ahead of time.) I'll be the fat hairy guy drawing fart gas.
Posted September 2, 2010 at 06:05 pm
I'm happy to announce that you can buy glossy and matte 8"x10" prints by clicking "Buy This Print" under the comic you like! Shipping to anywhere in the USA or Canada is free. Elsewhere it's $10, but free once you have $90 worth of items in your cart. I may have to adjust prices due to rising shipping costs, so just keep an eye on your final cart price for any changes. Also, at the $90 mark, you get a free sketch! (Hand-drawn on 125LB card stock or the back of any print of your choice. Please e-mail me at the time of your order if you have a preference.)

(Your print may not be identical to the image in the store or on the website in order to fit it on the page and/or make it more attractive. Every picture sent will be suitable for framing in any 8"x10" frame you can find at any dollar store in America.)
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